By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 30, 2009
Jennifer Blackburn parked her white Land Rover near Section Eight of Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring and turned to the back seat to wake her two young sons from a nap.
"Come on, guys," she said. "We're going to see Daddy."
The three walked through a sprawling green to the grave site of Jason Hadeed. Four-year-old Nikolas and 3-year-old Alex pulled off the petals of some daisies and tulips that they had brought and sprinkled them onto the bronze plaque covering the marble headstone.
"Beloved father, son and brother," the plaque reads.
Today in a Montgomery County courtroom, Michael Adams will be sentenced for Hadeed's murder. Following a two-week trial in November, a jury took a little more than three hours to find Adams guilty of first-degree murder, which carries the possible sentence of life in prison without parole.
Hadeed, 33, had a shaved head, sinewy muscles and a growing reputation as one of the top trainers of young athletes in the area. Adams, 45, was a failed golf pro with a gambling addiction. Their relationship began when Blackburn introduced them eight years ago. They shared a love of sports and occasional rounds of golf together. The relationship ended with Hadeed curled in the fetal position on a street outside Adams's apartment, in Rockville's King Farm community, shot three times in the back.
"I had to bury my fiance of six years and send my best friend to prison for the rest of his life," Blackburn said. "Nothing good came of this."'He Had the "It" Factor'
A few months before he graduated from Damascus High School in 1992, Jason Hadeed went to an athletic training facility in Germantown owned by John Philbin. Hadeed asked Philbin, who had just finished a five-year run as coach of the U.S. Olympic bobsled team, if he needed an intern. Philbin agreed.
"You could just tell he had the 'it' factor, a passion," Philbin, who served as the Washington Redskins' strength and speed coach from 1992 to 2000, said in an interview. "He was willing to do whatever it took to be the best. He went to seminars. He read everything he could get his hands on. He dove into every piece of literature. He wanted to know everything about it from A to Z. And then he asked questions.
"I was more proud of him than any other student I've ever worked with."
Hadeed earned his bachelor's degree in kinesiology from Towson in 1998. Two years later, he got his teaching certificate in physical education and co-founded Elite Athlete Training Systems. Though he worked with both male and female athletes at all levels, Hadeed found his niche working with high school football players.
Hadeed would train athletes either at Philbin's new facility in Gaithersburg, at area health clubs, at private homes or at athletic fields throughout the Washington area. He had made connections with entire teams, like the football team at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, whose coach, Al Thomas, had been Hadeed's coach at Damascus.
"He really enjoyed working with kids," said Jeff Friday, former strength and conditioning coach for the Baltimore Ravens, for whom Hadeed was an assistant from 1999 to 2000. "He liked seeing them develop under his own eyes, and he wanted to be the best at it."
Hadeed focused on strength and speed when working with players, keenly aware that increasing attention was being paid to scouting combines.
"He came into my life when I was in a lot of trouble," said Adam Masters, who began training with Hadeed as a freshman at Walt Whitman High in Bethesda. "I was losing interest in school, not caring as much about schoolwork as football. If I skipped class or got a bad grade, Jason wouldn't train me."
With Hadeed sitting at his side, Masters signed a letter-of-intent last Feb. 6 to play on the offensive line at Connecticut.
Hadeed and Blackburn met in November 2000. She worked as a personal trainer at health clubs in the Washington area, and understood Hadeed's passion. Within six months, Blackburn moved into Hadeed's townhouse in Waldorf. In May 2004, she gave birth to their first son, Nikolas. One of the first people to visit the hospital was Michael Adams.Looking for Direction
Blackburn met Adams in 1997 while both worked at Metro Fitness in Bethesda. Adams, a membership salesman, tried to woo Blackburn, leaving her love notes in lockers at the facility and inviting her to his mother's house in Vienna for Thanksgiving dinner.
"I told him, "The answer is, 'No, I'm not having dinner with you,' " Blackburn recalled. "But then we became best friends. He was the most selfless individual I had ever met in my life."
After graduating from W.T. Woodson High in Fairfax in 1981, Adams went to Edison (Fla.) Junior College and Florida Atlantic University to play golf. He spent a dozen years as a self-described golf "journeyman," according to court testimony, working as a club professional at country clubs in South Carolina, Virginia and Florida, while also playing low-level tournaments and relying on sponsors in an attempt to make it on the PGA Tour.
By 1998, the sponsorships had dried up and Adams, then 35, gave up his dream of playing professionally. "I pretty much hung it up," Adams said in court. "I was a little upset about not doing it anymore."
Adams's mother, Dody Pierce, persuaded her son to move back north and put his life back together. Adams first worked at Metro Fitness. Then he tried substitute teaching. Then, with the housing market growing, he got into the mortgage business as a loan officer. When the bubble burst in 2006, he lost his job and found himself in the same spot he had been in eight years earlier.
Adams had a passion for sports and liked to bet. "I always fiddled with the numbers as far as handicapping sports teams," he said in court. "So I decided to pursue that."An Addiction Grows
Adams developed a system for picking winners. But he needed capital to place his bets, which are illegal in the United States outside of Nevada or through off-shore accounts. He sought people willing to back his bets and called his endeavor Adams Edge Consulting. When the bets were successful, Adams would keep a percentage of the winnings. The rest would go to those who staked him.
"If you think of a stock broker, I'd track teams as far as performance in certain games," Adams said in court. "I'd explain [to backers] what I did and how the money would be invested. I'd invest no more than 10 percent of your money in the outcome of a game."
Adams said he never explained what those philosophies were or which games he was betting.
"I'd just do it," he testified. "I don't call you and say, 'I'm going to invest your money on the Redskins.' "
The first person he sought out was Blackburn.
"He said, 'I've got this business,' " Blackburn recalled. " 'Can I borrow $1,000? I promise you I'll give you $1,500 back.' Two weeks later, I got $1,500 back. I didn't ask any questions."
Hadeed gave $10,000 to Adams. By the end of the year, he made $5,000. He raved to his friends about Adams Edge Consulting. Eleven others gave money to Adams.
Adams's early success did not hold. According to Adams's testimony, he told Hadeed in the summer of 2007: "I'm having a down time, but I want some time to get your investment back. Do not tell the other investors because I don't want to alarm them."
"Fine, as long as you're paying me back," Hadeed told him, according to Adams's testimony.
By this time, Hadeed had already given $30,000 to Adams, $18,000 of which Hadeed took out of his IRA, according to the testimony of Steve Hadeed, Jason's uncle, who also gave money to Adams.
Adams would mail his clients monthly statements, many of which were admitted into court as evidence, detailing where the money went. Steve Hadeed received a statement on July 30, 2007, showing he initially put up $10,000 and a current balance of $15,800. John Coester's Sept. 3, 2007, statement showed a balance of $23,800 after a $15,000 outlay. Adams admitted during the trial that the statements, which he stopped issuing in late 2007, were false.
Pierce said she had loaned her son $30,000 shortly thereafter. Adams testified the money was supposed to "get some of those losses back to Jason and everyone else." Instead, Adams said he went to Atlantic City more than 40 times in a two-year span.
"I lost it," he said in court. "I was in too much of a rush to get it all back and I lost it."
In an interview last month, Pierce said she realizes now that her son had a gambling addiction. "Now that I think about it, I have no idea how long it was going on. He worked day and night on this system," she said.Backed Into a Corner
By the fall of 2007, Adams owed his backers much more than $100,000, according to Stephen H. Chaikin, the assistant state's attorney in Montgomery County who prosecuted the case. Adams testified he was concerned about his safety.
"I decided to tell everyone that things weren't good," Adams said in court. "I had lost the investment and I needed time. Jason was upset when he learned that the others had found out."
Hadeed felt blindsided, according to friends. He had to explain to them how such a sure-fire moneymaker could be such a disaster. Adams said Hadeed turned angry, and Adams testified that he worried about the potential for violence. According to a source who used to train with Hadeed, but asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the case, Hadeed "had a violent temper and would challenge people's manhood all the time. . . . He was not afraid to flex his muscle."
Adams stopped taking Hadeed's phone calls, and Hadeed relied on text messaging and occasional voice mails as his means of communicating with him. Several hundred text and voice messages were found on Adams's cellphone by investigators, more than two dozen of which were admitted as evidence. Several of the correspondences included profanity and threatening statements.
Pierce testified that her son began spending a lot of time at her house in Vienna because he "was afraid." When Adams would stay at his own place, Pierce said she would call and he wouldn't answer. On more than one occasion, she said, she drove over to King Farm and Adams would open the door, unshaven and wearing a bathrobe. She'd hug him while he muttered: "Mom, they're going to kill me. They're going to kill me."
When Pierce said she'd broach the topic of addiction, Adams snapped back, "Mom, I don't have one."
Undeterred, Pierce took her son to the Woodburn Center for Community Mental Health in Annandale on Jan. 10, 2008. In the span of four hours, two doctors found that Adams had a "major depressive disorder." The diagnosis also said Adams had "become increasingly depressed," displayed "decreased energy," exhibited "fearfulness" and "indecision," and showed signs of "wishing he wouldn't wake up" and being "passive suicidal," according to court testimony.
Meantime, Adams's cellphone "was ringing all day long," Pierce said in court. "He kept saying, 'It's Jason again.' He was getting more upset, so I said, 'Give me the phone.' "
Pierce texted a message to Hadeed at 11:15 p.m. on Jan. 10 that read: "This is Dody, Michael's mom. He is not hiding. He is in the hospital."
Five days later, Hadeed responded with a voice mail on Adams's cellphone: "Hey Mike, this is Jason. I've been trying to get a hold of you. Just to inform you, a lot of your investors will be meeting to come up with a plan. Everything's all going to be above the table. I don't want you to think there's going to be any questions of violence. We're all starting to come together and decide you've been inactive instead of proactive and mocking us. I hope that you are okay and I do feel bad that you are in the hospital. Yeah, but life goes on."
On Feb. 2, Steve Hadeed texted Adams twice to ask if he expected to make a payment for the month of January. Adams continued to ignore the messages.
Adams testified that, shortly after 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 8, he heard a loud knock on his door. He peeked out the kitchen window, as he said he had become accustomed to doing the past few weeks, saw it was Jason Hadeed and did not open the door. Hadeed left an angry voice mail for Adams, then followed it with the text message: "u r not a man of your word. u will get what u dish out one day. karmas a bitch."
Except for a quick run up to a nearby McDonald's, Adams spent the rest of the day at home. He planned to wager on that night's NBA games.The Future Seemed Bright
Meantime, Hadeed spent that Friday getting ready for perhaps the biggest day of his professional career. The next morning, Hadeed was scheduled to speak at the Nike Coach of the Year Clinic, an annual event that attracts more than 400 high school and college coaches. Hadeed saw this as his chance to show the largest gathering of football coaches -- all prospective clients -- that he was the best in the athletic training business.
"That was all he spoke about for the last few days," Paul Hadeed, Jason's father, said in court. "Nike, Nike, Nike. He was quite excited about it."
Occasionally, Jason Hadeed would go out for drinks with his old mentor, John Philbin, on Friday nights after work. Not on Feb. 8, 2008, though.
"He was too excited about Nike," Philbin said in an interview. "I was so proud of him."
Jason Hadeed and Blackburn had split nearly a year before, and Blackburn moved with the two boys to a different townhouse in the King Farm community. Yet Hadeed maintained very close contact with his sons.
"'He once said to me, 'Jenn, we were horrible together, but as parents, we were the best,' " Blackburn said. "When I moved out, we became like best friends. It was great again."
At 9:30 p.m., Blackburn called to say the boys were sick and needed cold medicine. Hadeed hurried to a nearby Safeway, bought the medicine and dropped it off at Blackburn's house.
"Looking back, it was clear he was preoccupied that night," Blackburn said. "He didn't ask to see his children. That was unheard of for Jason."
At about 9:45 p.m., Hadeed called his girlfriend, Allyson Lewis, who lived in Columbia, to tell her that he wouldn't be able to see her that night. With the presentation the next morning, Hadeed told her he needed to stay home and prepare.
But after dropping off the medicine, Hadeed made a stop at 232 King Farm Blvd., the address of Michael Adams's apartment.Shots Ring Out
The 7 p.m. NBA games were wrapping up around 10, and Michael Adams wasn't doing too well. He had bet on five games and lost four, including one in overtime. Adams was down another $900, after beginning the day already owing his bookie $2,400.
"We spoke every day, 10 times a day, up until Feb. 8 about money and Jason," testified John Jimenez, through whom Adams placed bets. "It's all we talked about every day. . . . He wasn't [scared of Hadeed]. He was more annoyed than scared."
There was a knock on the door. Adams's upstairs neighbor, Hal Clinton, had often come down to visit on Friday nights, and the two would either watch television or take a walk to get a bite to eat. Adams said he figured it was Clinton, didn't bother to look out the kitchen window and opened the door.
It was Hadeed.
"He came at me through the door," Adams testified. "He started cussing me out. He wanted to [mess] me up. [He said] I'm a slimebucket. I'm the scum of the earth. It wasn't just the words. It was the tone."
Adams alleged in court that Hadeed punched him twice in the stomach and stood over him in a menacing fashion before grabbing Adams's laptop computer off his coffee table.
Adams testified that he brandished a gun and asked Hadeed to leave. After this, investigators said, Adams fired a shot that entered Hadeed's right upper back and pierced his right lung and heart. Zabiullah Ali, who performed the autopsy for the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, said in court this was a "rapidly fatal wound."
Adams testified that Hadeed dropped the laptop inside the front door as he exited the house with the first wound.
Adams said he followed Hadeed out the front door. Hadeed's car was parked to the left, yet he ran in the opposite direction. As Adams followed, neighbors had begun to hear the commotion.
Barbara Gordon testified that she watched the scene unfold from the window of her fourth-floor apartment across the street. She could not see their faces, but she heard one part of the conversation. " 'You don't have to do this, man. You don't have to do this,' " she testified. She could not see the faces of either man. The man screaming "was terrified. There was a tremor in his voice. [Then] I heard two pops of a gun."
Barry Gordon, Barbara's husband, said in court: "I saw a person huddled in the fetal position. Another man was hovering over him, with a blue hooded sweatshirt."
Barbara Gordon then watched as the man in the hooded sweatshirt "calmly walked back" to 232 King Farm Blvd., stopping several times to look back at the body in the street. Then, she saw the man pacing inside the house, but when the sound of sirens came, the lights went off. Nobody exited the front door, she said, yet a silver sport-utility vehicle exited from the back with its lights off and turned away from King Farm Boulevard, where the police were arriving.
Driving the silver SUV, Adams arrived at his mother's house around 11 p.m.
"He kind of fell through the door on to me," Pierce said in court. "He held on to me. He was shaking a lot. . . . It was almost like he short-circuited. He kept saying, 'Mom, Mom, Mom,' to me for a while. He was all over the place, tears, shaking. . . . He looked glazed over."
Within the hour, Adams had surrendered to police. A .22-caliber handgun with an empty chamber was found in the center console of the silver SUV. Photographs of Adams's body taken by police at 3 a.m. showed no marks of any physical contact, and Adams's clothing showed no signs of being involved in a struggle.
Hadeed's body was found a little more than 100 feet from the front door of Adams's house, according to investigators. The second and third gunshot wounds both entered Hadeed's body from the back. He was pronounced dead shortly after being taken to Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.Closure Proves Elusive
Blackburn and the two boys try to make weekly visits to Hadeed's grave site, though the winter weather has made it difficult the past month. Yet when they were there on a recent Friday afternoon, they brought flowers, and each boy brought a painting he had done of white snowflakes on blue construction paper. They used the remaining stems of the flowers they brought to anchor the paper into the ground adjacent to the grave.
"Now look at Daddy up in heaven," Blackburn told them.
"I love you, Daddy," Alex said.
"I miss you, Daddy," Nikolas followed.
Blackburn does not intend to be at today's sentencing. What good, she said, could come from her being there?
"I don't think anyone ever gets closure from something like this," she said.